PAOLA MAGNI IS A...

Equality is this year’s theme for International Women Day, #EachForEqual - ‘An equal world is an enabled world’. We chatted with Italian scientist Paola Magni, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Science, Murdoch University, Perth & Deputy Dean & Director of SCRIPT at Murdoch University Singapore. Paola is an adamant advocate of women. She challenges the stereotypes reinforcing the importance of diversity, inclusion and equality of female gender in Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine (STEMM). - Photo Martin Jason

Paola Magni is a Champion of Change!  

The kind of champion we wish to know and the kind of champion we seek to be. She is a champion in life, or more precisely, in lives. Lives of the people she helps during her duty as a forensic scientist. Her job is to use science to solve crimes (yes, C.S.I). ‘Specifically, my expertise is the use of clues from nature for crime-scene reconstruction, that is basically the storytelling of the criminal event. Insects help me to estimate the time since death or the abuse of drugs; microorganisms from the water can help me to pinpoint the causes of death; soil elements can indicate where the primary crime scene is’ she says.        

     

Paola is a scientist, but not an ordinary one. She does not wear a lab coat, or have facial hair, and not a man…not your typical picture. She does wear eyeglasses, yes! However, only because they are cool, she points out. Life plays a big part in her profession of solving murders - nonetheless this can seem an oxymoron: ‘In my work I focus on the science of death and what comes after: which again is again, - the life of micro-organisms. These micro-organisms can be used to investigate crimes. It’s a cycle of life, death, of everything and everyone. It’s science!’    

Paola is a Technology Architect! She has developed an App called ‘SmartInsects’ which allows for information to be gathered as per the correct protocol in the event pathologists are required in a case that involves insects. ‘Police and medical examiners’, Paola says ‘don’t bring with them the manuals, but they all carry their smartphones. It is a ‘smart’ way to not lose critical data and for same time collection of this essential information.  

Paola is doing Women proud! In May 2019, she won the science communication competition FameLab and was selected to represent Australia at the Global final and placed 4th. In a documentary style video designed to reinforce the importance of diversity, inclusion and equality in Science Technology, Engineering, Maths and Medicine (STEMM) studies, Paola stressed: ‘In order to accurately reflect the true nature of Australia’s demographic population, more women and students from multicultural backgrounds should be encouraged to engage in these disciplines. Unless we make changes and encourage more diversity among our science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine students it means we are not fully supporting our potential future industry leaders.’

A report released by Australia’s Chief Scientist in March 2016 showed that thirty-five per cent of people with STEMM qualifications living in Australia were born elsewhere, but that there were differences across the various STEMM disciplines. In 2011, 84 per cent of people with a STEMM qualification were male. ‘As we move into the future, it’s up to all of us who hold minority roles in STEMM disciplines to encourage women and those from culturally diverse backgrounds to build a workforce which reflects our population’s diversity. I am proud to be considered a role model for other young women and will take every opportunity to champion the message about diversity,' Paola added.

Paola Magni at a crime scene. (Photo ChantelConcei)

Paola is an Academic! One project that she has been working on is “maggot masses”, that means working with thousands of maggots. She tells, ‘The lab was really full, and well, during the night 5,000 maggots escaped… There is something that is called “CSI effect” that gives the wrong perception of forensic science and investigation: it suggests that as experts we are infallible, always ready to go and glamorise, and that every case can be solved quickly. This is not true and sometimes it’s very challenging. It is good for people to understand the hard work behind the scenes.’

Paola is a mother! ‘I became a Mum not long ago,’ she says. This has been the biggest joy of my life, but comes with many responsibilities: reshaping days, nights and priorities. I am working full time, and I believe I am doing well, but it’s hard work to maintain the balance and unfortunately not everyone around you fully understands.’

Not one of the 4,807 primary school children that participated in an open-ended projective test designed to investigate children's perceptions of the scientist, called ‘Draw-A-Scientist Test’ (DAST), ever drew a scientist with, or holding a baby or considered that a scientist can be a parent.    

What Paola likes to teach her daughter is not science, but kindness and inclusiveness.

Paola Magni is a Woman and she lives by ‘girls compete with each other, women empower one another.’ Therefore Paola conducted a series of interviews for Segmento with three Italian women scientists living and operating in Australia.

Edda Guareschi

Edda Guareschi

PHD candidate in Forensic Science at Murdoch University

You and your life before Australia.

Born in Parma, I graduated in Medicine School in Bologna, completed a 4-year residency in Forensic Pathology/Legal Medicine, and a 1-year Master of Science course in Forensic Anthropology/Odontology in Milan. Until 2017 I worked as a forensic pathologist and anthropologist, acquiring an extensive casework and pursuing both continuing education and research. Along the way my spouse and I managed to create a family with four cats.

You and your life in Australia.

In need of a change from the difficult working conditions in Italy, my family and I migrated to Australia in 2018. In a few months my expertise was requested by a colleague working at Murdoch University, WA. The institution endorsed us in the inception of a smooth collaboration, which led to a rewarding academic course. In my case, this is best exemplified by the beginning of a PhD program in early 2019.

How do you challenge the stereotypes in your field?

Stereotypes about women being ill-suited to science have always affected women’ self-esteem since an early age, and diminished self-confidence is likely one of the worst obstacles to overcome. I have been lucky because my mum, born just after WWII, achieved a brilliant career in applying science to medicine, and passed down to my sister (also a scientist) and I, the concept that there is actually nothing misguided about a woman scientist. I grew up with barely any cultural conditioning, and when I later encountered it I was already an adult, so I dismissed it as just a stale cultural legacy.  

How is it possible to improve equality in your field?

So much progress has been achieved in helping mothers  to reconcile family and career, I think it has now become paramount to endorse the path embarked by the western society in the last 20 years, that is to help husbands to reconcile their career with a scientist wife, with the aim of a comprehensive cultural evolution.

Martina Mariano (with Leo)

Martina Mariano

PHD candidate in Neurogenetics at the University of Western Australia

You and your life before Australia.

My name is Martina Mariano and I am PhD Candidate in Neurogenetics through the University of Western Australia and Curtin University. My research interest is in the development and application of novel tools for a definitive diagnosis of rare genetic neurodevelopmental disorders.  

After graduating in Genetics and Molecular Biology in Rome (Italy), I worked for several years in Human Genetics, covering various positions and acquiring skills in both forensics and medical diagnostics. In 2017 I participated in the Perth Bio-design Program, applying my scientific knowledge to the development of a diagnostic device for prosthetic joint infections which resulted in a $10,000 and a start-up company.  

You and your life in Australia.

As a postgraduate student in a foreign country, with a highly demanding and cutting-edge PhD project, in 2019, I embraced a new challenge by having my baby boy Leonardo.  

I am passionate about bridging the gap between research and practice. I am ambitious, eager to make the difference and to show that you can be both a good mother and a good scientist, without having to compromise one or the other. I believe that each of us is responsible for contributing to a gender-equal world, for the benefit of the present and future generations.  

How do you challenge the stereotypes in your field?

To do so, firstly we should increase the awareness around the latent gender inequity that exists in Science and is reflected in the paper authorships and senior leading positions. We should talk openly about it, and find or become the role model who champion other women to thrive and challenge the status quo.  

How is it possible to improve equality in your field?

From a working mother perspective, I would encourage flexible working schedules and parental benefits for both dads and mums. This would enable a smoother transition of women from maternity to the labour force - without necessarily having to rely on expensive childcare or grandparents - and nurture positive working and family environments for women to thrive.  

Gender equality is not just “a women issue”. It’s a shared responsibility, so it’s time to be all #EachforEqual.  

Valeria Senigaglia

Valeria Senigaglia

PHD candidate in Marine Science at Murdoch University

You and your life before Australia.

I’m a marine biologist, I study dolphin behaviour in an attempt to understand how they respond to a changing environment to then better protect them. But I’m also a food journalist, a writer and a keen scientific communicator. I left Italy way before landing my feet down under. I lived in Spain, Scotland, Philippines, Canada and the US chasing flippers (or studying marine mammals behaviour and conservation to be more “academic”). After all these travels, few years ago I felt like putting down the luggage and I went back home, to Italy. I had to change career, there were no opportunities for a Fulbright scholar with a master in Marine biology, so I started writing about food sustainability. I also worked as an English translator and a reviewer of fine dining restaurants…yet I couldn’t make a living and the call of the Ocean was too strong, so when I got a scholarship to do a PhD in Western Australia, I chose to uproot myself one more time and leave.  

You and your life in Australia.

In Australia I’m still a marine biologist and a foreigner, which means I’m cool and exotic but I don’t fully belong. I’m always split between my family and country and a fulfilling life overseas. But, I walk on the beach daily, I get to do what I love and most of all, there’s hope, optimism and a will to move forward and reward hard-work. I could do with house heating though, I will never understand why Australians do not believe in winters despite the low temperatures and Xmas in July.  

How do you challenge the stereotypes in your field?

By creating my own path, embracing that I’m unique and different. You need math and statistic to succeed in my field, and you need passion to overcome the many challenges. Yet I studied literature and Greek mythology before becoming a biologist. I managed to learn statistics but I still enjoy literature and theatre and writing and singing. There is no one way to be a scientist, it is not a “divine call”, you can be passionate and still value many other things. Doubt yourself, challenge yourself and most of all, be yourself.  

How is it possible to improve equality in your field?

Role models, we are in desperate needs of role models, the more diverse the better. We need to find new ways to reward work-life balance, because our life and career cannot be measured solely by the number of publications and/or citations we have. Don’t get me wrong, without solid, strong and innovative science we shouldn’t call ourselves scientists, but we need to unravel how to reward both quality and diversity. Without good science there is no scientist but without a life outside work (in any shape of form) there is no person, and it is so much worse.

Daniele Curto

Daniele Curto strongly believes that the Italian community in Australia need a voice which highlights the achievements that influences Italian culture. Born in Italy’s capital 40 years ago, he derives from a humanistic arts education. A Docterate of Literature, with a Major in Cinema and a Diploma in Photography allows him to juxtapose the disciplines of Journalism and Visual Arts in the most natural way. Daniele, has extensive experience as a Journalist, Cameraman, Photographer and Cinema House Director. Nevertheless, it is Roma, with its history of millennial civilisation that has left a mark on every aspect of social life, that consented him to appreciate and to be proud of the precious heritage which has been bestowed upon him.